Einstein and Eddington
|Einstein and Eddington|
BBC DVD cover, featuring Andy Serkis as Einstein (top) and David Tennant as Eddington (bottom)
|Written by||Peter Moffat|
|Directed by||Philip Martin|
|Theme music composer||Nicholas Hooper|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Running time||89 minutes|
|Original network||BBC Two|
|Original release||22 November 2008|
Einstein and Eddington is a British single drama produced by Company Pictures and the BBC, in association with HBO. It featured David Tennant as British scientist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, and Andy Serkis as Albert Einstein. This is the story of Einstein's general theory of relativity, his relationship with Eddington and the introduction of this theory to the world, against the backdrop of the Great War and Eddington's eclipse observations.
The prelude is set in 1919 on Eddington's expedition in Príncipe to observe the solar eclipse that year, before moving back in time to 1914. At the outbreak of the First World War, Eddington is appointed chief astronomer at Cambridge by Sir Oliver Lodge and instructed to research Einstein's work and defend the Newtonian status quo. Meanwhile, Einstein is lured back from Zurich to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin in an attempt to aid the war effort by embarrassing Britain by disproving the work of its great scientist Isaac Newton. In Berlin, with his marriage already under tension, Einstein falls in love with his cousin Elsa.
A Quaker and therefore unable to go to war, Eddington sets out to bid farewell to his friend William Marston, as the latter goes off to war as an officer, but just misses Marston's train. He then presents his lecture to his fellow astronomers at the university — defending Newton, but still thinking Einstein might be right — and takes the German Müller family into his home after saving them from a violent anti-German mob. When Einstein's wife arrives in Berlin, she discovers Einstein's affair and leaves him, whilst Eddington faces down protesters who despise his status as a conscientious objector. Einstein arrives late at a demonstration of Fritz Haber's poison gas and is so disgusted by this application of science to murder that he rejects an offer to convert his citizenship back from Swiss to German and refuses to sign the "Manifesto to the Civilized World", a list of prominent German scientists, artists and academics supporting the war.
Eddington finds his research into Einstein's work obstructed by a British ban on the circulation of German scientific literature. Realising that Mercury's orbit is precessing slightly less than it should be according to Newton's laws, he writes to Einstein despite the ban to inquire into his view on the problem. Einstein's relationship with Elsa deepens, and on receiving Eddington's letter he starts work on this new avenue with Max Planck, whilst consoling colleague Planck on the loss of his son in the war despite Einstein's lack of belief in a human-like God or an afterlife. They find that Einstein's work agrees with Mercury's orbit where Newton's does not, and send this reply back to Eddington.
At the same time, Eddington grieves over Marston, among the 15,000 killed by German use of chlorine gas at the Second Battle of Ypres, causing doubts in his faith, but leading him to fight all the more loudly against an expulsion of German scientists from the Royal Society. The expulsion has been initiated by Lodge, whose son was also among the killed and who clings to Newton as a consolation of "order in the universe", but Eddington is unable to admit to Lodge that he too is grieving for a loved one.
News of the gas attack also leads Einstein to an outburst against his fellow scientists, which leads to his being cut off from the university, and — overworking — he falls sick and Elsa leaves him. Even so, he manages to complete his work on general relativity and on how starlight bends and gets this result through to Eddington via Planck. Eddington realises he can prove that space and light are being bent by observing the solar eclipse of 29 May 1919 on the west African island of Príncipe, and with Dyson as an ally, manages to gain funding for his expedition, despite Lodge's initial opposition. As the war ends, Eddington's sister and housekeeper, Winifred, sets off to help the Quaker relief effort in war-shattered Germany despite her fears as to Eddington's waning faith.
The action returns to the Principe expedition, delayed by bad weather until the very last moment, while Einstein briefly returns to his ex-wife and children. Bringing back two photographs from the eclipse to compare to photographs of the night sky in normal conditions, Eddington compares them in public, with Lodge and Winifred in attendance, and not only proves Einstein right but also finds this confirmation reaffirming his faith — as he states, "I can hear God, thinking". News of his vindication reaches Einstein, and crowds of press arrive at his door just as Elsa returns to him. A year later, in the closing scene, Einstein visits Cambridge and meets Eddington. The closing credits remark on both scientists' later work, Einstein's celebrity and Eddington's obscurity.
Einstein And Eddington is written by Peter Moffat and directed by Philip Martin, who both collaborated for the production of Hawking, a BBC biopic about the acclaimed physicist. It is produced by Company Pictures and the BBC, with HBO and Pioneer Pictures, Hungary.
Location filming occurred at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, St John's College, Cambridge, and on the Adriatic Coast of Croatia. Walter Isaacson acted as consultant (with Francisco Diego as eclipse advisor).
Scientific and historical inaccuracies in this film
- The opening scene depicts the hauling of astronomical equipment up over rocks on the island of Principe. This did not happen. The eclipse was photographed from the Rosa Sundy plantation which had road access from the port of Santo Antonio.
- Sir Oliver Lodge did not instruct Eddington to find out about Einstein's work. It was de Sitter in Holland who sent Einstein's papers to Eddington, who then wrote a report on his work.
- Eddington asks for papers by Einstein in the library and is handed one paper with the comment ‘it’s all there is’. The paper in question was published in Annalen der Physik in 1905 along with four other ground breaking papers by Einstein. The library would have had this very important journal plus many other papers by Einstein published in the decade up to 1914.
- Sir Oliver Lodge is given the leading role of criticising Einstein, supporting Newtonian physics. There is no evidence that Lodge was an astronomer or was involved with Einstein. That said, Eddington himself in his memoir ("Space, Time, and Gravitation", CUP , pg 115) records correspondence between himself and Lodge regarding aetheric theory versus relativity; Lodge in fact authored the "aether" article for Encyclopaedia Brittannica (13th edition), and as a leading physicist his research interests included both its luminiferous and gravitational effects - including its astronomical implications.
- Lodge is apparently depicted as President of the Royal Astronomical Society. While Lodge served as president (in 1913) of the British Science Association, he most certainly was not president of the Royal Astronomical Society and he did not appoint Eddington to run the Cambridge Observatory.
- Eddington did not write to Einstein asking him to solve the problem of the anomalous orbit of Mercury. Einstein was already well aware of this problem and in fact solved it entirely on his own, shortly before publishing his final theory. As Pais in his seminal 1982 biography observes, the complete theory was presented to the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences rather earlier, in November 1915 - and that same month, Einstein accounted for Mercury's perihelion shift.
- A related point is that Einstein did not collaborate with Planck on solving the Mercury problem. Einstein was helped in the final formulation of his General Theory by David Hilbert.
- Einstein did not write to Eddington with the solution to the Mercury problem.
- Sir Oliver Lodge had no involvement with the granting of the money for the Principe expedition.
- Eddington did not devise the eclipse experiment to test the bending of starlight. This had been suggested by Einstein years earlier and there had even been unsuccessful expeditions to test the prediction during eclipses in Europe and America.
- Dyson did not go to Principe with Eddington, it was Edwin Cottingham.
- At Principe there were not six bad plates and two good ones. There were 16 plates taken during the eclipse; Eddington wrote in his 1920 memoir that "Sixteen photographs were obtained... one plate was found showing fairly good images of five stars, which were suitable for a determination". One more Principe photograph with adequate stellar imaging was developed on return to England, making two 'good ones', from which six stars had measurements taken.
- Seven plates from the Sobral expedition showed stars on which full measurements could be made. Just seven stars were selected - the same six as at Principe, plus one more. Unfortunately, other Sobral plates were less useful. While check-plates of the same stellar field ruled out systematic errors for Principe, that was not true of the Sobral photographs, which limited their usefulness. The corresponding Sobral instrument appeared to be afflicted by systematic error ("the definition of the images had been spoiled by some cause, probably distortion of the coelostat-mirror by the heat of the sunshine falling on it"). This left just two plates, from Principe, providing a reliable test. Happily, Eddington added that "There remained a set of seven plates taken at Sobral with the 4-inch lens..." and the clarity of these allowed for internal checks on consistent stellar radial displacement.
- The plates were not first examined in public as depicted in the film. They had been meticulously measured for months previously along with other plates from Sobral in Brazil. Eddington did not look at the plates for the first time in front of a large audience and declare a ‘gap’, thus vindicating Einstein. On the other hand, Eddington wrote that some of the Principe plates were not even developed, let alone examined, till back in England: "Four plates were brought home undeveloped, as they were of a brand which would not stand development in the hot climate."
- There is no evidence that Sir Arthur Eddington was gay, as intimated in the film. He did remain unmarried till his death; but that is hardly conclusive.
- BBC website for Einstein and Eddington
- "David Tennant and Andy Serkis to star in BBC drama Einstein And Eddington" (Press release). BBC. 21 May 2008.
- (Phil.Trans. (1919) A, 220, 291)
- (Isaacson, W (2007) Einstein: his life and universe. Pocket Books.)